Mark Nayler

Can Brexit inspire Catalan independence?

The increasingly radical Catalonian independence project has been dealt its latest blow this week: on Tuesday, Spain’s constitutional court ruled that a projected September referendum on secession would be illegal. This means any plebiscite is effectively banned. But whether Catalonia’s pro-independence president Carles Puigdemont goes ahead anyway remains to be seen. A similarly defiant course of action was pursued by his predecessor Artur Mas, who held a vote in 2014 (in which eighty per cent of people backed independence), and is currently on trial.

The latest setback in the quest for Catalonian secessionism is particularly ill-timed. Just last month, Puigdemont and his Vice President Oriol Junqueras addressed MEPs in Brussels in a bid to secure their support for independence, assuring those present that although their party is determined to break from Spain, it is committed to remaining part of the EU as an independent state. Their pitch was condemned by Esteban Gonzalez Pons, an MEP of Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party, as an incitement to support a criminal separation. Pons also compared Catalonia’s strident efforts to break from the rest of Spain to Brexit. ‘In the end’, he said in a radio interview last month, ‘the ‘America for Americans’ rhetoric, or that of ‘the British first’, is identical to the ‘Catalonia for Catalans’ [view] of Puigdemont’. Puigdemont’s movement, Pons said, enjoys support across Europe from the ‘pro-Brexit extreme right’ who are also in favour of an EU referendum in the Netherlands and who don’t think that Donald Trump is a disaster.

For good or bad, there are certainly parallels between Brexit and the Catalonian independence project. The leader of the secession movement in Catalonia himself seems to have taken inspiration from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. After the referendum last June, Puigdemont declared that:

‘[Brexit] demonstrates that it is perfectly possible to take a decision about sovereignty, as all other countries do’

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